When it comes to co-branded hotel cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is in a league of its own. Thanks to some remarkable changes to the program in early 2015, plus its partnership with a variety of popular airline programs, points earned through the program are more valuable and versatile than ever.
While the daily rewards you earn with the card aren’t exactly stellar, its sign-up bonus is worth a lot more than one would think at first glance. Meanwhile, valuable benefits such as no foreign transaction fees, free Boingo Wi-Fi at airports, and in-room premium Internet access sweeten the deal.
The Simple Dollar’s Key Takeaways
- Earn highly valuable rewards good for hotel stays and more. Use your card to earn one point per dollar spent on all purchases, plus two points per dollar at Starwood properties. Higher earnings are also available for Gold and Platinum members. Free hotel stays are available at over 1,300 properties in 100 countries around the world and start at just 2,000 points per night.
- This card offers the option to transfer your points to 33 popular frequent flyer programs. If you don’t want to use your points for hotel stays, you can transfer them to a range of frequent flyer programs such as Aeroplan, British Airways, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.
- Get free in-room premium internet and free Boingo Wi-Fi at airports. Just for having the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll receive premium in-room Wi-Fi for paid and reward stays and free Boingo Wi-Fi at participating airports.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
- Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Perfect for Anyone Who Travels
With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll earn one point per dollar spent on all purchases, plus accelerated earnings when you use your card for Starwood hotel stays. You’ll also enjoy no foreign transaction fees when you use your card for overseas purchases, which can save you as much as 3% when you travel internationally.
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, using your points for free hotel stays might be your best bet. Although the sign-up bonus on this card may appear low compared to similar programs, it isn’t when you consider how cheap free nights are to come by. As you’ll see in the chart below, free weekend nights at Category 1 properties start at just 2,000 points.
|Category 1||Category 2||Category 3||Category 4||Category 5||Category 6||Category 7|
|Weekdays||3,000||4,000||7,000||10,000||12,000 - 16,000||20,000 - 25,000||30,000 - 35,000|
|Weekends||2,000||3,000||7,000||10,000||12,000 - 16,000||20,000 - 25,000||30,000 - 35,000|
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express lets you combine points with a spouse or partner at the same address. Obviously, pooling your points this way can lead to more free nights – and double the perks! And when you book five nights with points, your fifth night is free with this program. That’s another great incentive to get two separate cards and pool points into one account.
The fact that this card waives the annual fee for the first year offers the perfect opportunity to try out the benefits without risk. As mentioned above, you can also transfer your starpoints to a slew of popular airlines if you choose to use them that way. While some transfers are offered at a 1:1 ratio, others aren’t quite that simple. The following chart shows how airline transfers work under the Starwood program:
|Frequent Flyer Program||Exchange Ratio (Starpoints:Miles)|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1:1|
|Air China Companion||1:1|
|Air New Zealand & Air Points||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1:1|
|ANA Mileage Club||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||1:1|
|China Eastern Airlines||1:1|
|China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club||1:1|
|Delta Air Lines Skymiles||1:1|
|Japan Airlines Mileage Bank||1:1|
|Miles and More||1:1|
|Saudi Arabian Airlines||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1:1|
|Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus||1:1|
|United Mileage Plus||2:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1:1|
Also remember, cardholders receive “bonus points” for transferring at least 20,000 starpoints to miles at a time. For example, 20,000 starpoints transferred to American Airlines becomes 25,000 airline miles automatically. Periodically, the Starwood program also offers “bonus promotions” that make your points worth even more.
Another Starwood promotion, Starwood’s Nights & Flights, offers an additional way to use your points. This option lets you redeem your points for a travel package that include both hotel stays and airline miles. It works like this:
- Redeem 60,000 starpoints for five nights at a Category 3 property and 50,000 airline miles.
- Redeem 70,000 starpoints for five nights at a Category 4 property and 50,000 airline miles.
By choosing this option, you can make your points go even further. But keep in mind, you are limited to Category 3 and Category 4 properties if you go this route. By choosing the Category 3 option, you’ll save 18,000 points – or you can save 20,000 points by opting for a Category 4 property.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Where It Falls Flat
The biggest downside that comes with using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is how hard points are to earn. With this card, you’ll earn just 1 point per dollar on all purchases and only 2 points per dollar spent at Starwood properties unless you are a Gold or Platinum member. Meanwhile a comparable travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card will let you earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, a feature which helps you rack up points that much quicker.
Another possible downside is that, unlike other flexible cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express doesn’t let you redeem points for cash back. If you want a card that lets you redeem your points in several different ways, you might be wise to consider a flexible rewards card or cash back card instead.
Who This Card is Good For
- Anyone who flies with one of Starwood’s airline partners frequently
- Someone who loves Starwood properties and stays at them often
- Anyone who wants flexible points they can use in more than one way
Who Should Pass
- Someone who prefers to stay at a variety of hotel chains
- Those who never want to pay an annual fee
- Someone who wants the option to redeem points for cash back
How Does It Compare to Other Hotel Cards?
While the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is considered a top hotel card, there are other co-branded hotel credit cards that give it a run for its money. For the sake of comparison, we took the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card and compared their benefits side-by-side. Here’s what we found:
|IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card||Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express|
|Annual Fee||$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49||$95, waived the first year|
|Free Night on Account Anniversary||Yes||No|
|Earning Points||Earn 5 points per $1 spent when you stay at IHG hotels. Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores & restaurants. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.||Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.|
|Redeeming Points||Free nights start at 10,000 points per night||Free nights start at 2,000 points per night|
|Foreign Transaction Fee||none||0%|
|Fifth Night Free||No||Yes|
|1:1 Frequent Flyer Transfers||No||Yes|
As you can see, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express comes with a higher annual fee. Meanwhile, it doesn’t offer a free annual night on your card anniversary, which is a huge boon for those who carry the IHG credit card.
However, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express does offer 1:1 transfers to a slew of popular frequent flyer programs. If you fly frequently with any of their airline partners, this is a huge benefit you should not overlook. Room rates at Starwood properties also start at just 2,000 points per night, which is a considerably lower barrier to entry than any other hotel loyalty program on the market.
While both of these cards are good options, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a better choice for anyone who flies frequently or plans to take advantage of low-tier properties frequently to stretch their points.
Best Strategy with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Use It for Everything or Pair with an Airline Credit Card
While the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express makes it difficult to rack up points quickly, starpoints are still some of the most valuable points out there. If you want to grow your balance and take advantage of all the perks this program has to offer, you’ll need to use your card for all of your everyday purchases – including groceries, gas, utility bills, and all miscellaneous purchases.
If you’re interested in one of Starwood’s airline transfer partners in particular, you could also get a co-branded airline card and use both to rack up as many points as you can. Our post on top airline credit cards can help you figure out if that’s an option to consider. You can also consider using your card to earn the sign-up bonus and score additional perks such as free in-room Wi-Fi and no foreign transaction fees, then pairing it with a top rewards credit card that offers a higher earning rate on everyday spending.
The bottom line: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express doesn’t have to be the only rewards card in your wallet. If you want more ways to earn points and miles, it’s smart to use this card in conjunction with another rewards card that offers a different set of benefits.
Want to Earn More Points? Consider This Card Instead
While the Starwood card offers benefits you can’t necessarily get elsewhere, earning points with the card is a difficult process. If you want flexible rewards that are easier to earn, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead. With this card, you’ll earn 2X points on both travel and dining, plus have the option to rack up points by shopping through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
- Related: Best Travel Credit Card for 2017
Like the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you transfer points to a number of popular frequent flyer programs. Meanwhile, you also have the option to redeem points for cash back or gift cards at a rate of one penny per point.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program also lets you book travel through their travel portal at a 20% discount when you use points. In the end, this means Chase Ultimate Rewards points are slightly more versatile. Before you sign up, here are some additional details to consider:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
If you love Starwood properties and want to rack up points in the Starwood Preferred Guest program quickly, you might want to give the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express a chance. With no annual fee the first year, plenty of perks including premium, in-room wifi and no foreign transaction fees, and a hefty sign-up bonus, this card offers more than meets the eye.
Since you only earn 1 point per dollar on all purchases, it might be wise to pair this card with another rewards card that offers more points for everyday spending. If you’re interested in exploring other possibilities, the chart below can help:
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